The Playgoer: Speaking Congress' Language?

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Speaking Congress' Language?

From the LA Times:

Nonprofit arts groups, including museums, orchestras, theaters and dance companies, contributed $166.2 billion and 5.7 million jobs to the U.S. economy in 2005, according to an advocacy group urging more funding for the arts.

The numbers undercut a common belief that spending on arts and culture comes at the expense of economic development, said Randy Cohen, vice president of policy and research at Americans for the Arts, which released the report Tuesday.

"Support for the arts isn't a black hole," Cohen said. "Arts organizations are businesses. They pay people. They purchase supplies and services. They pay utility bills. That spending supports jobs and generates government revenue."


The group is pressing Congress for an almost 40% boost in funding to the National Endowment for the Arts to reverse a cut made by Republicans after they took over in 1995. Last month, the group released a report saying arts organizations are "at risk" due to a drop in corporate giving and lack of growth in giving by foundations and individuals.

Defending arts on economic terms is not a universally accepted approach. The Wallace Foundation, which aims to expand the demand and appreciation for the arts, commissioned a 2004 Rand Corp. study that questioned the strategy. It found most research efforts to tie arts to economic growth fail to prove cause-and-effect and obscure more basic reasons to support arts.
Talk amongst yourselves.


Slay said...

I discussed this and related issues at length right here.

So, here we are, telling people that we need to produce Endgame because it will convince yuppies with kids to move into the new million dollar condos on Main St.

But, there are massive problems with the research that proves all of the above claims. The largest being that we don't need any research to know that if education and economic development are your goals, there are hundreds of WAAAAAAAAAY more efficient means to get them.

parabasis said...

I don't see what the problem is with taking multiple tactics to achieve a goal. A common argument against arts funding is that it is wasteful. Showing that it's not-wasteful is therefore good. At the same time, the Rand Study points us in other ways to talk about and advocate for this issue. None of this is mutually exclusive. The arts are an important part of development... personal development, social development, community development and (yes) economic development. The history of NYC is one big case study in this.

Slay said...

I'm not saying art isn't important to economic development, and it's definitely important to correct skewed takes on our economic vitality. I just wish we didn't have to spend so much time emphasizing it over the things that are most important about art. It's a trap that we're building for ourselves.

It's unfortunate that we've been put in this position. It's sad that AftA can't go before Congress and argue that our country suffers "a famine of the spirit" and that more and betters arts are the only way to save us. That SHOULD be the argument.

What if policy makers push back and say, "Sure, we'll fund you, if you produce x amount of economic growth. If you miss the mark, we cut your funding."? What artistic decisions will be affected by that mandate? What if they choose to fund only the sectors of the arts in the top-5% for economic development? Then all art turns into a "pop" industry. At some point this will bite us back.

Of course, right now we're in survival mode, we need to squeeze water from any stone we can find, so there's little question that we'll use any tactic we can, and I don't blame anyone for doing so, but I doubt it will serve us well in the long-term.

Art shouldn't have to prove itself in the market. I hope that at some point we'll stop giving in to this game and stand-up for ourselves.

Of course, that's just me.

Anonymous said...

i think it's good to have multiple approaches to increase NEA funding, but by Randy Cohen's logic the government should give money to...anyone, well, because these people will eventually spend this money and get the economy going. One of the more popular places to spend money is on the military industry. When's the last time an A-bomb was dropped? So Cohen's logic isn't about "research", it's called Keynesian economics, right? The sticking point being that if the government can spend their money anywhere, it should be on things that everyone can use and appreciate. A-bombs, ok, they keep us "safe". Everyone is scared. But also roads, parks, swimming pools, why not theater and art?

But to be cynical, the government should give more money to churches and faith based groups because, well, these groups spend money and hire janitors and buy vans and buy catering for their events. .. . .

Anonymous said...

I've sifted thru some AftA data before and I can assure you that much of it is deeply flawed and inflated to make arts impact look bigger than it really is. Not that I really blame AftA, they have a mission to promote the arts and I'm sure it's not keeping them up at night knowing that they fudged some numbers if it gets a 40% increase in the NEA budget. But the economic impact of the arts is MUCH smaller than the AftA makes it out to be.

parabasis said...

I guess part of me is having that seasonal blog fatigue (Even though I blog a lot) where I'm like jesus christ, why are we talking about which arguments work and which don't instead of just making some moves and seeing what happens?

I'm highlighting this impulse so I can restrain it and engage here in P*Goer's comments.

Okay, I do see a lot of problems with the economic impact argument, really, I do. I just wonder how useful the spiritual growth argument is to Congress.

YOu know where I think you can make that argument, tho? Local governments. Part of this is just that I think we should be moving more locally in our activism anyway, but here me out.

I think there is an argument to be made, especially in places that are culturally somewhat... bereft... that culture can be part of improving community life. In Richmond, VA, there's a serious youth drug and alcohol abuse problem... one of the reasons for this problem is that there is nothing else to do after a certain hour of night. There's an argument to be made that fixing that would have some impact, create some social change.

Not that it will necessarily work of course, but a society with a vibrant cultural life is a society that is more alive and there are specific ways you can see that a society is more dead or more alive. Everyone abusing drugs is a pretty good sign of death.

Playgoer said...

Interesting side note to the actual Americans for the Arts study. As mentioned in a 5/30 story in Bloomberg on a similar report by NYC's Alliance for the Arts, the nation wide one "excluded New York City and Los Angeles to avoid inflating the national numbers." Uh... ok.

Yeah, we wouldn't want to "inflate" the importance of the arts to the economy by including our two LARGEST URBAN ECONOMIES.

Bloomberg story at: